How to complain successfully

Ellen Henderson (Student)

Now we’ve had the highs of Christmas shopping, some of us may be experiencing the lows of disappointing products.

Don’t despair, remember you’re a consumer…

Be empowered and know your rights

  • The Consumer Rights Act 2015 will be your new best friend in these kinds of situations.
  • The legislation states that the item must be fit for purpose, satisfactory quality, match the description provided, and last a reasonable length of time.

Make a folder

  • Set up a folder (on-line or actual physical folder) designated just to this issue
  • Keep a record of the name(s) of who you spoke to, the date of that conversation /email and what the outcome was – even if they didn’t answer the phone or respond to the email.
  • Keep any receipts, invoices, delivery notes, or marketing material in this folder too.

What is your complaint about?

  • Why are you unhappy with this product? Know what your complaint is about – take photographs (if you can).
  • In just a few words, bullet point each issue and use this when you are communicating with the business.

What do you want out of the situation?

  • Have an ultimate goal in mind – it might be an apology, a repair, a replacement or a refund. Be honest and realistic with yourself.
  • Know what you are willing to settle for, as you may need to compromise.
  • Ask yourself, ‘how far am I prepared to take this’?

 Keep calm and focus

  • Give the situation some claim consideration before complaining – don’t act impulsively in the heat of the moment.
  • Don’t lose your temper, it will only muddy the waters and divert from what you really want out of the situation.
  • Keep calm and stick to your bullet points.

Win them over

  • Make it clear you’re not complaining about the person you are speaking to, but about the business because of the service or product they have provided.
  • Remember that you want the person receiving the call or email to do something for you i.e. take it seriously, work with you, escalate the matter, make you an offer.
  • You have more chance of achieving your ‘goal’, if you can win them over and make get them understand your disappointment.

Escalate your complaint

  • If you’re not getting anywhere with customer services, go higher by asking for their line manager or head office. If that does not work ask for their formal complaints procedure.
  • Write a letter of complaint using your bullet points. Include the record of your attempts to resolve the issue with the company and make it clear what you want.

Don’t lose the momentum

  • Don’t be tempted to put your head in the sand, there are often deadlines to complaining.
  • Often companies will be hoping that you’ll go away. Ignoring you can be a deliberate tactic they deploy.
  • Stay focused and determined, keep escalating until you find somebody who hears the issues you are raising.

  Taking the matter further

  • Trading Standards – If you have a complaint about goods or services.
  • The Ombudsman covers some services e.g. Energy, Communication, Financial, among others. Generally, you can’t use an ombudsman until you have exhausted the internal complaints procedure.
  • Mediation – A mediator can help both sides work out an agreement. Sometimes this can be quicker and cheaper than going to court.
  • County Court – Apply to a county court to claim money you’re owed by a person or business (claim form N1): Example Costs:

Claim amount up to £300  cost:£35 (paper) or £25 (online)

Claim amount between £5,000.01 to £10,000  cost:£455 (paper) or £410 (online)

Legal advice

  • Some house or car insurance policies include a free legal helpline where you can get advice on your rights and how to pursue a complaint.
  • Citizens Advice Bureau
  • Or make an appointment with SULAC for free legal advice
  • Contact: 01782 294800 SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s keep it civil! New law allows heterosexual couples to become civil partners.

Hannah Lewis (Student)

The New Year brought with it a new change to the law surrounding marriage and civil partnerships. As of New Year’s Eve mixed-sex couples in England and Wales have begun to enter into a civil union that will benefit from the same legal and financial protections offered to married couples. Until this, only same sex couples could enter into a civil partnership.

The campaign to have the law changed was spearheaded by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan who will be among the first couples to have a heterosexual civil partnership. After being turned away from the registrar’s office five years ago, the couple decided to bring a judicial review arguing that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 breached Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights because it discriminated against mixed sex couples. The couple won a landmark victory in the Supreme Court in June 2018 when it was agreed that the legislation was indeed incompatible with human rights law. This led to Theresa May, the Prime Minister at the time, amending the Act which came into force on December 2nd, 2019.

So, what is a civil partnership? It is a legally recognised relationship with the same legal and tax benefits as a traditional marriage. As with marriage, couples who wish to enter into a civil partnership must “give notice” at a registrar’s office 28 days before the union. There must be a registrar and two witnesses to the signing of the partnership but there is no stipulation for the couple to make vows to one another. Essentially, there is no practical difference between marriage and civil partnerships except a person’s personal beliefs that they are entering into a partnership without any religious associations.

The government estimates that as many as 84,000 ceremonies will be conducted within the first year as couples take advantage of a right originally legislated for LGBTQI couples. Unlike couples who choose to cohabit rather than marry, civil partners are entitled to the same property, pension, inheritance, tax and next-of-kin rights as married couples. Cohabiting families are the fastest growing family type, with 48 percent of children being born to unmarried couples in 2017. This change in legislation may encourage those who see marriage as an antiquated institution to benefit from the same protection as a married couple.

SULAC offers free legal advice on all family matters. We hold surgeries in Stoke on Trent and Stafford. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

Family Lawyers Welcome ‘no-fault’ Divorce – Latest Development

Elisha Poole (Student)

After two previous false starts, the long-awaited reform of divorce swiftly returns to end ‘the blame game’. The legislation reform will make an appearance in the next session of parliament. The ​ Divorce, Separation and Dissolution Bill, first introduced in June 2018, came to a stand-still twice after the general election but has finally made its reappearance. The bill intends to introduce ‘no-fault’ divorce into legislation.

The current grounds for divorce require on one of the five facts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation (if the other spouse consents to the divorce), or five years’ separation (no consent required). The new bill, if passed, does not require these allegations to be proved, thuis permitting a “no fault” divorce. To be granted a no-fault divorce, one spouse must simply state that the marriage as irretrievably broken down.

Family lawyers welcome the latest development of the bill after Justice secretary Robert Buckland said: “The institution of marriage will always be vitally important, but we must never allow a situation where our laws exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing. By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can move on with their lives.”

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free legal advice on all family matters to members of the public. SULAC is currently offering appointments at Stoke County Court and various locations around Stafford including Signpost Centre and House of Bread. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: ​ SULAC@staffs.ac.uk​ or call on 01782 294800.

Call for a Specialist Housing Court

Fiona Cursons  (Student) 

In November 2018 The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government  requested feedback from court users, the legal profession and the public about whether there was a need for a court specialising in housing issues.  

It is said that court, solely dealing with housing matters would reduce delays, make the process easier and make it quicker to get justice in such disputes. The request for this seems to be coming from private landlords, not social lenders or mortgage lenders. Private landlords only make up a small amount of possession cases that get to court so is there a need?

The Burns report commissioned by the ministry for housing stated that there were many factors and issues identified by tenants, as well as landlords, when dealing with possession proceedings. however, it did not advocate the need for a new specialist court.  

In addition, the civil justice council responded saying that the creation of a specialist housing court would involve a large commitment of resources which could be better applied to the current process to ensure a satisfactory level of service to all users.  

The Court system is already struggling to cope with all areas. Directing resources to one particular area, would obviously involve a diversion of resources from another area. It is difficult to find a valid reason for this when more resources are required across the board. Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC offers free legal advice on housing matters to members of the public. SULAC is currently open and offers appointments at Stoke and Stafford. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call 01782 294800 

 

Legal Aid and Discrimination in the Workplace

Caitlyn Martin (student)

In 2018, more than a quarter of British employees said that at some point they had experienced discrimination in the workplace. The equality watchdog has warned that the current legal aid system is enabling employers to get away with discrimination. The Equality and Human Rights Commission says that more needs to be done to protect employees.

As access to legal advice and lawyers has been cut by £950m a year due to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2013, the commission has said that places of employment that continue to discriminate on grounds of sex, religion and race effectively still go unpunished as people are forced to represent themselves. This act is responsible for introducing a mandatory telephone gateway service for legal aid and removed employment tribunal representation from its scope.

David Isaac, the commission’s chairman, said: “Legal aid was specifically set up to ensure that those who have been wronged, but cannot afford their own legal representation, can access justice. The threat of legal action is a powerful deterrent for perpetrators and makes it clear that society will not tolerate injustice. Challenging such complex issues as discrimination should never be a David vs Goliath battle, and the system is failing if individuals are left to fight cases themselves at an employment tribunal or in court”.

The average worker does not earn enough to pay privately for a solicitor but is deemed to earn too much to qualify for legal aid.

At the Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC), students offer free legal advice on employment matters to members of the public. SULAC is currently open and offers appointments at Stoke and Stafford. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call 01782 294800.

Lawyers urge that mental health should be prioritised in family law children’s cases

Curtis Dunkley (Student) 

 

Legal aid is rarely available for family law cases, meaning that most people now have to represent themselves in Court. Solicitor’s argue that significant changes are required to the way these cases are dealt with, so that mental health can be prioritised in the family courts Lawyers are urging for more focus to be on Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) like mediation, to help parents and children avoid the stress of court. 

Family lawyers at Irwin Mitchell (a leading national firm) say that these changes are essential to ensure that the experience has a positive effect rather than a detrimental one on the wellbeing and mental health of anyone who requires the assistance of the family court.  

The former CEO of Cafcass Anthony Douglas was quoted in an interim report on the Child Arrangement Programme (CAP) as saying “court has become the default option for too many unhappy separators”. This suggests that mediation is not being used effectively. 

Since the withdrawal of legal aid, the amount of litigants-in-person has risen substantially: during the 2017/18 financial year the number of parties in private law cases with private representation was 36%, compared to the 2012/13 financial year where the number was 58%. Legal experts say this has increased the pressure on the courts, the professionals and, most importantly all the parties involved. 

The Rt Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, recently urged all those who work in the family courts to concentrate on wellbeing with other professionals pointing out that the current system is unsustainable. 

Irwin Mitchell say that the overall focus should be the mental health and wellbeing of people going through the process. 

Experts argue that the best approach to move forwards is to consider solutions that resolve matters outside of court, whether it is mediation, arbitration, conciliation, or another route. This would help ease the stress of the process for the parties involved and most importantly, the children. 

At the Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC), students offer free legal advice on family matters and a number of other issues to members of the public. SULAC is currently open and offers appointments at Stoke and Stafford. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call 01782 294800 

 

Ministry of Justice closing 77 courts in 7 years.

On the 16th of October 2019, the chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service informed the Public Accounts Committee that 40% of courts are still being used for less than half their total available time. She alleges that more than two-thirds are situated within five miles of another court.

In September the Ministry of Justice revealed that they are planning on closing around 77 court and tribunal buildings over the next 7 years. The idea is that the money that will be saved will go towards modernising the remaining courts. HMCTS has already closed 127 sites in England and Wales since 2015. Between 2010 and 2015 around 140 buildings were also shut.

When these Courts were closed inaccurate information was used to assess the impact on Court users. Ms Acland-Hood suggests that this time they will look at the real travel distances for the individuals who use the courts.

Acland-Hood stated that access to justice remains the priority when considering the closure of courts although given the significant delays already being experienced by Court users it is questionable whether this can be achieved if further closures are made.

HMCTS were questioned on how the Magistrates and Crown courts were to manage if the government’s 20,000 extra police officers plan was to go ahead as this would result in more cases coming through the system. It was acknowledged that if there was a significant increase in cases there would be a problem.

Access to justice is already problematic. Further closures can only make this situation worse. SULAC offers free legal advice to members of the public in Stoke and Staffordshire. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

One million workers are being denied their rights

Hannah Lewis (Student)

A think tank called the Resolution Foundation claim as many as one in twenty British workers do not receive any holiday pay despite being entitled to the same. There are recorded to be 32 million people in the British workforce and the foundation suggests that at least one million people across the country are being denied their rights in one form or another. The report produced by Resolution First shows that workers are being failed by employers and despite the government taking steps to increase the resources of the HMRC and other bodies, it is largely up to the individuals of these injustices to hold their firms to account. More than 100,000 applications were made to the employment tribunal system in 2018.

Economists fear that job security is being undermined as the power of the trade union declines and the law fails to keep up with the changing employment landscape since the last recession. Although unemployment has fallen in Britain to the lowest levels since the 1970’s a rise in the use of the zero-hour contracts and employment through agencies has led to an abuse of workers’ rights. It is workers aged under 25 and over 65 that are most likely to be affected by violations of legal entitlements. The research shows that almost one in ten workers did not receive a payslip, which is a legal requirement. It is employees at the end of their working life that are the most likely to not receive payslips. The HMRC recorded 200,000 cases of workers not receiving minimum wage in 2018, the majority of those being at the beginning of their working career.

The British government have made many rules and regulations to control the labour market and ensure fairness to its workers. However, these rules are only as good as the agencies that have the power to enforce them. Violations remain a common feature of the job market and millions of people are missing out.

SULAC is a free legal advice clinic provided by final year law students at Staffordshire University. We can offer legal advice on all areas of employment law. Please call 01782 2944800 for an appointment.

 

‘More people need educating on Power of Attorney rights’

Bissmah Tariq (Student)

The Government’s Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) have announced a drastic rise in investigations into people with Lasting Power of Attorney over the 2017/18 period.

There have been many complaints of Lasting Power of Attorney misuse with a drastic rise in investigations of 45% over the past year. The majority of the investigations were carried out due to concerns from close relatives, local authorities, care homes, financial institutions and legal professionals.

Friends and relatives often accept the responsibility to make financial or health decisions on behalf of relatives or friends who no longer have the mental capacity to do so.

Since many do not fully understand what they are getting themselves into, this has led to people either accidentally or deliberately making mistakes such as not keeping clear records and wrongly gifting or taking money.

Royal London, which obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request, strongly encourage people to educate themselves on their responsibilities when they agree to act under a Lasting Power of Attorney.

Helen Morrissey, personal finance specialist at the insurance and pensions firm, said: “When done properly the attorneys fulfil a vital role in safeguarding the interests of the person they are acting for. But the sheer number of investigations into their actions is concerning and something needs to be done to curb poor practice.”

Someone agreeing to be appointed under a lasting power of attorney has a legal duty to help make important life decisions on behalf of the individual even when he/she lacks mental capacity. It is strongly recommended that you keep clear and well written records and bank statements as evidence of expenditure to protect your position.

For further advice on powers of attorney please contact SULAC (Staffordshire University Legal advice clinic. Our team of academics and qualified and experienced Solicitors have experience in this particular area and can provide you with free legal advice. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

 

Are Employers Disregarding our Freedom of Expression and our Right to Privacy?

Qadir Mohammed (Student)

Arguments made by Professor Virginia Mantouvalou of UCL state that courts and employers are excessively harsh on those they employ in relation to posts they broadcast online.

Social media is a dimension which is changing our lives in many ways. These changes can be both positive and negative. A post put up by an employee can affect a business, so it is no wonder employers choose carefully who they wish to employ as those working for them usually reflect their business image. An unnecessary controversy is something businesses do not want to deal with.

Social media posts will never please everyone though. For example, a post may be seen as stupid or offensive by one person, but another may see nothing wrong with it. This topic is very subjective, so how can a distinction be made? And are the consequences that follow proportionate to what has occurred?

Angela Gibbin’s story is one such example that is embroiled in controversy. Angela was employed by the British Council, when she commented on a Facebook photo of Prince George saying “white privilege. That cheeky grin is the (already locked-in) innate knowledge that he is royal, rich advantaged and will never know any difficulties or hardships in life”. Her comment got a mixed reaction from the public after her post went viral once it was published by the Sun and she later lost her job due to gross misconduct. She brought a claim for unfair dismissal, which was dismissed. Professor Mantouvalou claims that tribunals often disregard the fact that employees have a right to free speech and privacy.

The expectation of privacy has been diminishing in the employment sector due to the fact employees are ordered to comply with their employer’s social media policy. Professor Mantouvalou’s view is that we should use the standard test of proportionality set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 10 is another piece of legislation which ties into this topic and details our freedom of expression. Employers should acknowledge this and allow their employees to make critical comments of others and voice their political views without fear of consequences.

Employment is not the only place where social media comments are being used. They are now also being admitted in evidence in Court and can sometimes sway a judge into a decision which can cause unequal and unfair results.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic can offer free legal advice on employment issues as well as other areas such as personal injury, family and probate. Please call on 01782 294800 to book an appointment with us at various locations.